rachel paine 61
professor of philosophy, london
Part of me wants to just let Rachel Paine talk. The philosophy professor is one of the most articulate people I’ve come across on my journey. She quotes Hannah Arendt to emphasize the energy and power that thinking, alone, can give you. At Ageist, we love a formidable mind.
Maybe that’s no surprise. Born in Greenwich Village, Paine modeled tie-dyed clothes (when they were a new thing) as a teenager. She also organized student participation in protests against the Vietnam War and helped with marches protesting for abortion rights in the early '70s. Though she spent three years at City College studying English and Political Science, she eventually dropped out and later moved to London in 1981 after meeting her British husband.
In 1981, she and her husband moved back to London. Three children–two who now work in nonprofits, one who is an actress—came next, and she didn’t get around to her love for philosophy until they were in their teens.
“Before I went back, I think I was allowing myself to feel middle-aged,” says Paine, who was 45 when she started going to night school in London. “And philosophy shook me out, because I had to challenge myself in so many different ways. I had to be a student again. Being a parent is somewhat defining; you’re in a certain role, so you’re not learning and exploring as much as you’re laying the groundwork for someone else to learn and explore.”
Now she likes to say she works in an ‘age-free zone’. A professor at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, her classes include everyone from 18-year-olds, to an 87-year-old. Adults, she says, come to her class with a different attitude, a stronger thirst for learning. And it’s affirmed a theory she’s long held.
“A big part of the philosophy I’m working on is that human beings are designed to be open to change, and we try to limit ourselves by being static and stable, and we harm ourselves,” she says. “The risk of being static and not taking challenges is very harmful to me.”
Philosophy is very rigorous. “It’s a marathon,” she says. But she’s kept pace. Next year will find her in the ninth arrondissement in Paris, where she’ll focus not on writing the academic papers she’s done so far, but on essay and story writing. On occasion, she’ll find herself in conversations with younger friends about the pressures they face in an youth-obsessed society.
“There’s a sense of panic about aging, and I think they undermine themselves hugely by panicking. It creates anxieties that have no basis in reality. It makes them try to conform to norms of success because they’re afraid that somehow it’s all going to get away from them if they turn 30 and they haven’t achieved something that society says is important. There’s too much of a treadmill on the timeline. And just give it all up, because everything is going to be shifting and changing and interesting to the degree that you’re interested in your own life.”